If you don't know this about me already, I love simple, easy solutions to big problems. I like it even more when it costs little to no money and comes straight from the earth or in this case - your shower head. As a doctor, I often solve complex issues with complex solutions as may be the case with head trauma or open heart surgery. However, when it comes to general ailments of the body and mind like fatigue, stress, and general unhappiness – it is often the simple solutions that get to the root of the issue. One of nature's incredible healing capabilities is cold water and below is a list of 6 health benefits of taking regular cold plunges and cold showers.
1. Cold Showers Relieve Stress
We often hear experts say, stress is the great white shark of the aquarium. Actually, they never say that but it's true. According to the American Psychological Association, six of the worst diseases, you can think of, are linked to prolonged exposure to a stressful state of being: Heart disease, cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, lung issues, accidents, and even suicide. 75 percent of most doctor-visits can be contributed to stress related circumstances at home or at work. When we're stressed, we're in fight or flight mode, so our bodies, being of ancient design, do what they can to escape the predator. But when the predator is in our own head and there's nowhere to run, we tend to eat, drink, smoke more than usual and squeeze our body for it's juices to get some semblance of relief. Well, I've got good and bad news for you. The good news is one of the most efficient ways to relieve stress comes right out of your shower head. The bad news is, the best way out of discomfort, is into it. In this case – into the cold shower.
Let me explain.
2. Cold Showers Help You Cope with Mental and Physical Stress
Not all stress is created equal. 90 percent of modern stress is mental not physical, hence, it is out of balance. Exercise, for example, is a perfect balance between mental and physical stress. When you're running and you're feeling a bit queasy – your hypothalamus pulls the trigger on the sympathetic nervous system by releasing epinephrine and suddenly you're feeling groovy. Epinephrine, otherwise known as adrenaline, increases the heart rate, pushing blood to the muscles, widening your air pipes and sending more oxygen to the brain. This is the orchestra of a healthy mind and body working together in unison to rise to the occasion. Hormones are released and immediately processed in a healthy way. However, when stress is purely mental, the hormones and chemicals are released yet not properly translated and utilized by the body. In this case you're ordering room service and not eating it, stinking up the Ritz. So when you expose your body to freezing cold water, yes it does stress your body - but in a way that you can control. As in, you can exit the cold shower anytime and finish off with a warm shower. If you can learn to control your breathing and thus your stress-response in a safe environment, you can learn to control it while your boss is on your case, or a Ford Focus cuts you off. In short, it strengthens your ability to cope with stress of comparable triggers to your hypothalamus.
3. Cold Showers Boost Your Immune system
Exposing yourself willingly to a quantifiable stress that you know will be high yet that you know is not going to kill you, fortifies your body and mind to the stress of other avenues of life that may be less quantifiable. For example, if you had to sit through 5 hours of traffic every morning, that hour a day would begin to feel like a vacation. Daily exposure to an enemy you control reduces your tendency to over-react to an unruly enemy and allows you to get back to a calm baseline sooner - midigating the damage it may have on your body. ‘Cause let's face it. It's 2020. Not everyone has a Himalayan crystal cave in their backyard. Stressers are not going to change, but we can change how we react to them. So take your cold shower and increase your immune response to every day stressors on your body.
4. Cold Showers Increase Brown Fat
Have you ever heard of Brown fat? All healthy adults carry some layer of fat but most of it is white fat, which serves as a sort of solid, neutral way of saving energy for later - which in modern times often just leads to bulgy swimsuits, or worse - dangerous organ fat. The type of fat babies have is the type of fat we like: white fat which just sits there in the form of jiggling lipids. In contrast, brown fat has capacity to disperse energy in the form of heat. Studies in the Nature Journal suggest that with a regular practice of cold water immersion or cold showers, you would be able to replace your white fat cells with brown fat cells - which will actually serve to keep you nice and toasty on cold winter days instead of having to shiver like everyone else.
5. Help You Start the Day Off Right
Instead of waking up groggy and slightly brain dead until you've had your third sip of coffee, try stepping out of bed and into a cold shower tomorrow morning. Yes. It is certainly daunting the first few times. But I have gotten to the point where I crave it like I used to crave my morning joe. It only takes a few seconds for your body to reward you with electrical impulses that fire up your spine and into your brain – lighting up your heart and mind with Endorphins. Aside from the chemical and hormonal benefits, a cold shower also makes me feel like I have conquered my first fear of the day. My first defeat of the lazy “worm” that lives in all of us. The one that makes you choose a donut over a bowl of Acai. After a cold immersion, I feel empowered to face whatever challenge the day wants to throw my way. Happy hormones are rushing through my body within minutes of waking, leading me to make better decisions, which increase my feeling of optimism and courage that stay with me all day. Unlike coffee – I feel naturally alive, instead of artificially jolted into an anxious state of awakeness only to be left hanging at around 3 pm.
Some people think that changing your patterns requires years of therapy, a painful intervention of some kind, or a life changing realization. But that's exactly the type of thinking that keeps us stuck in a loop of old patterns. Others say it happens “in the moment”.... yeah yeah whatever... I don't even know what that means. But what I can say is that it begins every time you do something new and scary - something out of the ordinary and slightly uncomfortable. That's how we break patterns.
6. James Bond Does It
If, for some reason or excuse, stepping into a cold shower is too sudden for you, do it at first the James Bond way: start with warm water, then turn the temperature down to freezing cold at the end of your bathing routine. Or make it an alternating shower by switching every 10-20 seconds or however. Try this for a week and you will feel brave enough to go for a full blast cold shower.
What a practical, simple way to reduce anxiety and depression, boost your circulation, creativity, energy, weight loss and overall happiness among other advantages. And it is free - right there in the privacy of your own home. Anyone can do it. In Sweden they even use ice-cold winter ponds.
Good luck my friends! I hope you have enjoyed this month's version of “How To Find Health and Happiness for Free” and please share your experience with me!
Dr. Alexes Hazen